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Federal Plan To End State Mileage Standards Draws Criticism

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The Trump administration is poised to revoke California's authority to set auto mileage standards, asserting that only the federal government has the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy.

Speaker 1: 00:00 As expected, the Trump administration is making good on a threat to revoke California's ability to set its own auto emissions standards. The president announced the news in a tweet this morning, joining us to talk about what the revocation of California's EPA waiver means is Mark Jacobson, an economics professor at Ucs d specializing in environmental policy. Mark, welcome. Thank you. So what does this action mean for California? Do our current emission standards just go away?

Speaker 2: 00:29 Well, practically a, this is going to set up a legal battle, um, but if the, the revocation of the waiver is, is, um, uh, holds up in the courts, uh, yes, it means that California will no longer be able to have cleaner cars, uh, than the rest of the country. And, uh, as you may know, California is joined by 13 other states, uh, in, in sort of using this waiver that is existed. Uh, so there's, it's about one third of the auto market that's cleaner and another two thirds that have, have a, a dirty or standards on, on cars. Um, and it's, it's, it will mean big changes. It's really quite a stunning, uh, development.

Speaker 1: 01:05 All right. And a news conference in Sacramento this morning, governor Newsome, along with Attorney General Javier Bissera and California Air Resources Board Chair, Mary Nichols promised legal action against the federal government. What chance do you think that has a way of succeeding?

Speaker 2: 01:21 Uh, I've, I've heard various estimates from friends who are environmental lawyers. It's a 50, 50. It really hinges on the, um, the rationale. So it sort of will it hold up in the courts? Well, the reasoning behind doing this, uh, hold up in the courts, which is fundamentally economic in nature.

Speaker 1: 01:39 And at this morning's news conference, that Attorney General Bissera pointed out that California's emissions standards aren't just beneficial to California. Let's take a listen to that.

Speaker 3: 01:48 California standards have encouraged the development of critical emissions control technologies, many of which have been deployed nationally, not just in our state. Some of California's standards alone led to stronger standards from the EPA itself. All of this ultimately leading to cleaner cars and cleaner air for all Americans.

Speaker 1: 02:10 So, since California is standards, as he said, their influence auto emissions policy nationwide, do you think that has something to do with the administration's action?

Speaker 2: 02:20 Uh, yes and no. So, so there's the administrations sort of justification or economic justification for this is that we won't need to make so many different models of cars anymore. So right now we have hybrid cars and electric cars and all sorts of smaller, cleaner cars that are sold mostly in California and the other 13 states. And then we have larger, uh, vehicles that consume a lot more gasoline and make more pollution that are sold in the rest of the country. And I think the idea is that there could be savings if car companies didn't have to make so many different kinds of cars. The flip side of that, of course, is that there's an advantage. And I think that's what he was saying there is that, um, if you learn how to make cars because California or other countries, in fact the u s is nowhere near the largest auto market in the world, right?

Speaker 2: 03:05 So these, these companies are thinking about selling vehicles abroad as well. Um, uh, and, and lots of places around the world. They're making stricter standards. And so, so there need to be sort of a test bed for that. And if, if California and its, its um, partner states a value clean air for health reasons and just just sort of quality of life and are willing to, uh, to pay for these cleaner models than, than the auto makers, uh, in some sense would be happy to do that. And I think there, there was a deal in fact struck between the auto makers in California, um, a month or two ago, uh, to do just that.

Speaker 1: 03:38 Hmm. Now governor Newsome made it clear this morning what he thinks is behind the administration's move. Let's take a listen to that. This was a, a move demonstrable move cert power and dominance, aggressive move against the state a few days before UN climate week. What do you think of the governors contention that this is nothing more than a power play?

Speaker 2: 04:01 Oh, there's certainly been a lot of opinions expressed this morning in the newspapers that this is, yes, a power play or a spy tr. Uh, and it's very unusual, uh, frankly, to have an environmental rule that's actually binding in the other direction, right? Normally we think of environmental rules as making industry and, uh, uh, population have cleaner air or water than they would like. Uh, here we have an a, a change to environmental rules that's, that's causing us and the industry to make dirtier vehicles and we would like and, and sort of breathe dirtier air and contribute more to climate change and so on. And so it's really, uh, it's, it's in the opposite direction from what we usually see. Uh, and there's, there's a lot of old economics that suggests very strongly that that market forces and the benefits of market forces only work when people are in some sense allowed to buy what they want.

Speaker 2: 04:54 And in, in this sense, um, you know, with this rule is doing, is saying here we have a group of people, a community, a state, several states who want to buy cleaner cars. Uh, and that's, that's no longer going to be possible, or at least the states won't be allowed to encourage that, uh, using policy meetings, right. Individuals, of course, will still be able to buy a cleaner cars. And I think that's an incidentally one of the strongest cases against, uh, this move is that, remember the, the, the rationale that's, that's coming from Washington is this is an economic thing. This is going to make it cheaper for car companies to make cars cause they don't have to make so many different models and so they're going to sell lots more cars, jobs were promised and so on. Right. And I just, I think that, uh, from, from kind of everything I've seen, we haven't done this studies because it hasn't been needed before, but, uh, there'll be some demand now to really understand what it is that, that causes car companies to make lots of different models.

Speaker 2: 05:47 And I think a lot of that's driven by individual demand. And so even if California's not allowed to, uh, encourage the sale of electric cars, for example, I think the car are still gonna make electric cars. They're still gonna make hybrid cars. Um, they just won't sell as many of them. But this, this notion that they're going to cancel hybrids altogether and council electrics altogether and therefore save a lot of money by not having to make different types. I'm not sure how well that that holds up. I've been speaking with Mark Jacobson, an economics professor at UC SD, specializing in environmental policy marks. Thank mark. Thank you so much for your insight. Thanks very much for having me.

Speaker 4: 06:31 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.